Dublin Can Be Heaven

As I’m contemplating what might be my last days ever in Dublin, a particular old song keeps coming to mind, the chorus of which goes:

Dublin can be heaven / with coffee at eleven / and a stroll / in Stephen’s Green.
No need to hurry / no need to worry / you’re a king / and the lady’s a queen.
Grafton Street’s a wonderland / there’s magic in the air / there are diamonds in the lady’s eyes / and gold dust in her hair.
And if you don’t believe me / come and meet me there / in Dublin / on a sunny summer morning.

Although commonly known as “Dublin Can Be Heaven,” the song’s title, as I just learned, is actually “The Dublin Saunter.” It’s about a Dublin native, a self-professed “rolling stone” who has traveled far and wide only to discover that “there’s one place on this earth I’ve always liked the best, just a little town I call my own.”

Written sometime in the 40s or 50s by Dublin songwriter and radio broadcaster Leo Maguire (no relation), and made famous by singer Noel Purcell, it’s a nostalgic song evoking a golden era that happened long before I was born. The romantic sentiment it expresses, like Dublin itself, feels distant to me. While I too have “been north and I’ve been south, and I’ve been east and west,” if there’s one place that I’ve always liked the best, that would be San Francisco. That’s the little town that I call my own.

Whenever I return to Dublin, to my so-called “hometown,” I feel like a stranger in a strange land. The rows and rows of cramped-looking terraced houses, some with tiny front doors that reveal how short people were just a few generations ago, feel oppressive to me in their uniformity, each one mirroring perfectly the one beside it. They are the same houses I walked past everyday on my way back and forth to school.

I walk past them again now, on narrow streets not built with all these cars in mind. Often only one car can pass at a time. Irish drivers, unlike the typical American one, are happy to pull in and wait for the other to pass. Motorists here are refreshingly polite.

Despite the huge increase in the number of cars, large swaths of the city center are still cut off from traffic, including the pedestrianized “wonderland” that is Grafton Street. There you’ll find the famous Bewleys Cafe, established in 1927, and a slew of street performers dotted the length of the street. Many a Saturday afternoon in my youth was spent sauntering along from one busker to the next.

I wonder if I will ever return to Ireland after this visit. All that has kept me coming here will soon be gone forever and I can think of no reason why I might want to come back again. It is a thought that elicits no trace of nostalgia.

Tonight, I will decide what few things from my parents’ house I want to take back with me to San Francisco. On Sunday morning, I will leave this house for the last time. I will probably never see any of the neighbours here again, families who, like ours, have lived for many decades on this quiet cul-de-sac street, lined with the usual terraced houses, each one perfectly mirroring the next, except for the style of window and particular shade of grey or cream the facade is painted.

Neighbours here are very good and can always be relied upon in times of need. They cut the grass for us, bake apple pies, and offer rides wherever we need to go. Some of these families have known my family across three or four generations. It is strange knowing that those ties will simply wither away now, that another family will eventually take up residence in this house.

Again, it is a thought that elicits no trace of nostalgia.

And yet, and yet . . . that song keeps going round in my head. “Dublin can be heaven, with coffee at eleven, and a stroll . . .”

Dublin, I guess this is my goodbye.